Every year, the big bloggers publish articles on how to do SEO in that year. It's usually good advice but I feel like there's a lot of focus on "what" rather than "why". Like, "have relevant H1 and title tags because Google considers them in its ranking algorithm". But why does Google consider them important at all? I do not intend to diss any SEO experts, just trying to explain why they suggest the tips or 'hacks' they suggest.
If Google changes its algorithm tomorrow, a lot of such hacks would stop working. But if you know why Google gives importance to certain factors over others, you can stop worrying about algo updates altogether.
What Google wants is to give its users the best experience. Now what do users want when they use Google to search for something. They want results that are:
- Readable / accessible
If the webpage you want to rank for a certain keyword matches all these criteria, then the only thing left for you to do is to make it easy for Google to index your site.
Quick and readable are fairly straightforward - your site needs to load fast. Some ways to do that is:
- Minimize calls to external scripts (plugins)
- Compress (optimize) images
- use CDN to deliver media like images
- Minify CSS, JS
For readability, you will need to
- Make the site responsive - i.e. adjust font sizes and alignment according to device screen size
- Avoid popups
- minimize ads
- make the site screen reader friendly (for blind people) - alt tags, contextual anchor text, nested headings (h1, h2) etc.
For relevance, you cannot control everything. Eg. You cannot control whether a user clicks on your link in search results or not. What you can do is think from a user's point of view.
If you are a user of a search engine, when you type in a keyword, what do you look for in search results? You see the title, the URL, the description. You judge based on these 3 which one you want to click on.
So, as a blogger, you can make these 3 things include the keyword you want to rank for. This is entirely in your control.
It's not over yet... Your content has to live up to a user's expectation.
Eg. Let's say you have a travel blog and you wrote about your trip to Yellowstone National Park. You want to rank for "camping in Yellowstone" and you include it in the title, URL, h1 etc but the content just has pictures and no information on how to get there, what to see, where to go etc. A user comes to your site and quickly closes the tab. Now this increases your bounce rate. This is taken by Google to mean your site wasn't the most relevant search result for that user. If it happens to often, your site will slowly move down the rankings.
So unless you write good content that actually answers the questions a user has when they search for a particular keyword, you will not rank on Google, or at least won't stay near the top of rankings.
Finally let Google know that you exist:
- Register on search console and submit a sitemap
- If you are a local business, register on Google My Business and add your hours, contact, address etc
If you can think from a user's perspective, you can anticipate algorithm changes before they happen. Eg. In the last 5-6 years, the importance of mobile usability has increased in Google's search algorithm. If you already knew that a large section of your users came from mobile devices, you would have made your site mobile readable long before Google could update its algorithm.
To summarize, instead of implementing some hacks an SEO expert told you, try to create the best experience for your users and make it easy for search engines to index your site. That should take care of SEO without any worry of penalties.
DISCLAIMER: By no means am I saying this is an exhaustive list of things to do. I'm just trying to show how you should think about SEO, at least the parts you can control completely. Like guest posting, for example, depends heavily on which blog you post to and whether they agree at all.
I posted this on reddit a few weeks back